In an 8th grade classroom, I started the discussion by writing at the top of the whiteboard “freedom,” then a line downward under it. “What’s the opposite of freedom?” Writing those answers at the bottom end of the line, I asked, “What are some opposites of those words?” I’d been told that the game was college level, but they nailed it. The only stretch I helped them make was that one opposite of order is chaos: too much of a good thing. Then we talked about right and left, placing the parties on the Nolan chart. I passed out the cards to the game fractioNation as a way to have the kids pinpoint values each party emphasized and the causes they cared about. We posted the cards onto the board with magnets in the quadrants where they belonged. As a trained mediator, I know not to tell anyone they’re wrong. It’s embarrassing, insulting, and doesn’t create buy-in. For responses that weren’t in line with my understanding, I’d say “tell me about that,” or I’d make a guess about what they meant and ask if I understood correctly. I’d ask, “but what if…” and they’d figure out where I was going. Sometimes the cards just ended up in a different place than I would put them. “I would put it over there, but okay.” Mostly they helped each other, with a lot of raised hands. This gave them enough background knowledge to play fractioNation and domiNation.
This is a variation from the stated rules. The students separated into 6 groups, which each acted as one person would according to the game rules, so that the whole class was interacting in one game. Each group represented one of the four parties or else a centrist authoritarian, or a centrist anti-establishment position. Groups were given time to first choose an agenda item they felt best about defending, and identify a spokesperson to make their appeal to the other groups.
The teacher had grouped the desks of 18 students into three groups. Each had at least one student who was fairly knowledgeable and talkative, which ensured that the games didn’t flounder with any loss of adult supervision. The setup was directed as a whole-class effort, then basic rules were read aloud. From then on, I roved from table to table, spending more time where students had less confidence and background knowledge.